BREAKING: Victor Olaiya dies aged 89

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Veteran musician Victor Olaiya has died aged 89
Veteran musician Victor Olaiya has died aged 89

Victor Olaiya, the Nigerian trumpeter who plays in the highlife style has died at the age of 89, the manager of his record label has said.

The music veteran died on Wednesday in a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria.

“The entire music world wish to announce the death of a Legend of Highlife music one of the last man standing, the last of the original Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya OON,” a statement by Bimbo Esho, MD of Evergreen Music Company Ltd said.

“This untimely incident happened at Luth hospital Lagos State at exactly 12noon today Wednesday 12th of February, 2020.

“We pray that the Doyen of highlife music find repose with the creator while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

Olaiya’s music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat.

His musical style was influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonised in Brown’s style, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. The music includes the swinging percussion of Tony Allen, but not the syncopated style that Allen later pioneered.

Moji Olaiya, is the daughter of music veteran, Victor Olaiya
Nollywood actress Moji Olaiya, is the daughter of music veteran, Victor Olaiya

Olaiya released an album with Ghanaian highlife musician E. T. Mensah. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success.

In July 2013, Victor Olaiya released a music video remix of Baby Jowo(Baby Mi Da)with 2face idibia and was received with much acclaim.

Olaiya was born on 31 December 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State, the 20th child of a family of 24.

His parents, Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo, came from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State.

Olaiya came from a very rich family. His father’s house called Ilọijọs Bar stood on 2 Bamgbose Street, Lagos Island, until it was demolished on 11 September 2016.

At an early age he learned to play the Bombardon and the French Horn. After leaving school he moved to Lagos, where he passed the school certificate examination in 1951 and was accepted by Howard University, US, to study civil engineering.

Olaiya instead pursued a career as a musician, to the disapproval of his parents. He played with the Sammy Akpabot Band, was leader and trumpeter for the Old Lagos City Orchestra and joined the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra.

In 1954 Olaiya formed his own band, the Cool Cats, playing popular highlife music.

His band was chosen to play at the state ball when Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom visited Nigeria in 1956, and later to play at the state balls when Nigeria became independent in 1960 and when Nigeria became a republic in 1963.

On the latter occasion, Olaiya shared the stage with the American jazz musician Louis Armstrong.

During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian army and his band played for the troops at various locations. The Cool Cats later travelled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops.

Olaiya renamed his band to the All Stars Band when they played the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Czechoslovakia.

Olaiya also ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere.

In 1990, Olaiya received a fellowship of the Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria. For a period, he was also president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.